November is Native American Heritage Month. Are you celebrating this in worship in any way? Here are some ideas. Many of them don’t require a bulletin change, just incorporate into what you are saying. But a write up in the bulletin, a deliberateness to it, and coordinating with musicians in your congregation can provide extra impact. Here are some of the things I have done in the past:
- Talk about November being Native American Heritage Month in the announcement time and invite one of the Natives in the congregation to come forward to tell his/her/their story.
- Have a Children’s sermon and tell about the “Legend of the Turtle”. The Turtle and the Flood works best for me (Woodland), or the Turtle Gets a Shell (Oneida) but there are many depending on what jives with you.
- Sing the Navajo prayer:
Now I walk in beauty,
beauty is before me,
beauty is behind me,
above and below me. (Google NOW I WALK IN BEAUTY to find a pdf score of the melody or a recording. This one can be sung a cappella with very little practice. I often sing this as I am walking down to begin the announcements even before a word comes out of my mouth. Interestingly, over the years, this has become one of the more memorable things I do this Sunday in the congregational memory. This is somewhat surprising because it only takes 20 seconds.)
- The Presbyterian Hymnal is a treasure trove of Native music. Sing Hear the Good News of Salvation (#441 in Glory to God Hymnal – a Dakota hymn sung to a familiar tune), Many and Great, or the Muscogee (Creek) hymn Heleluyan, We Are Singing (#642 in Glory to God Hymnal)
- I have a Native American flute. I doubt you have someone in your congregation who has one and can play it fluently. But there is YouTube! I feel a pre-recorded prelude coming on, and giving your musician a break!
- Pray some Native prayers this Sunday. Google “Native American Prayers of Thanksgiving” for many ideas from the Ute, Apache, Cherokee, and Creek peoples.
- Connect with the Native American Ministries division of the PCUSA. Reach out to someone in Grand Canyon Presbytery, Indian Nations Presbytery, or Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery, or at the GA office. There is a Native American Young Adult Council too.
- Think about inviting a Native speaker for next year’s Native American Sunday in September or for NA Heritage month in November.
- Use a Native benediction. I have used the traditional Cherokee blessing before:
May the warm winds of Heaven blow softly upon your home;
May the Great Spirit bless all who enter there.
May your moccasins make happy tracks in many snows, and
May the rainbow always touch your shoulder.
- As Prayers of the People, pray the Great Spirit Prayer (Lakota): “O Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind,
Whose breath gives life to all the world.
Hear me; I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever
behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have
made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand
the things you have taught my people.Help me to remain calm and strong in
the face of all that comes towards me.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden
in every leaf and rock.Help me seek pure thoughts and act
with the intention of helping others.
Help me find compassion without
empathy overwhelming me.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy Myself.Make me always ready to come to you
with clean hands and straight eyes.
So when life fades, as the fading sunset,
my spirit may come to you without shame.”
- And finally, if you are not in a leadership position with worship at your church, you can still do something to remember Native American Heritage. You can pray this Prayer of Thanksgiving from the Iroquois people silently before worship on Sunday or with me right now:
We return thanks to our mother, the earth, which sustains us.
We return thanks to the rivers and streams, which supply us with water.
We return thanks to all herbs, which furnish medicines for the cure of our diseases.
We return thanks to the moon and stars, which have given to us their light when the sun was gone.
We return thanks to the sun, that has looked upon the earth with a beneficent eye.
Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit, in Whom is embodied all goodness, and Who directs all things for the good of Her children.
Iroquois Prayer, adapted